What do you remember most about those assignments? I’m guessing it’s how many times your peers used the words “uhm” and “well” and “like.” No matter how much your teacher implored you not to use these words, and no matter how many times you swore you wouldn’t use them, when your turn came, you got up there and dropped those words about a hundred times, didn’t you?
You didn’t? Well, maybe you’re just cooler than everyone else.
Fact is, most people use these filler words, not just in speeches, but in normal conversation. And so our temptation is to use these in our writing. It makes it feel more natural, we think.
However, the very opposite is true. It actually makes the dialog feel stiff and forced. The key to good dialog is to sound natural without actually being natural. Instead of suggesting a character who is nervous and unsure, these words suggest a poor writer. Good writers will skip these words and find other ways to suggest the nervousness and unease of the characters (specifically through physical description).
When writing dialog, make sure you’re avoiding these words. The result will be clean, crisp dialog that is engaging to read.